Whilst speaking to other people about India it got me wondering whether you need to spend a lot of money to enjoy the country, and if you do so, are you actually experiencing the ‘real’ India?
When we speak to people who have travelled in India we get mixed reactions. There are some people who will say “It was an experience, I’m glad I did it, but I wouldn’t rush back”, and there are others who say “I absolutely loved it, I loved the food and the people were so nice”. We can empathise with the former; however, we are sometimes left rather baffled by the latter response.
I am not saying that no one can love India, there are certainly some people that truly do, but we are rather dubious of that reaction from so called ‘flash packers’.
We both travelled to India with open minds, heaps of enthusiasm and were looking forward to sampling all the food and expecting to meet friendly people. We travelled through India on a budget, eating with locals, staying in budget guest houses and travelling from place to place on the train.
By budget I mean we were eating curry at least twice a day, spending less than £1 on a meal by eating where locals ate, travelling by sleeper or 3 a/c train (booking tickets direct at the station), and haggling with rickshaw drivers in order to get a good price. We averaged around £12.50 a day each including everything (except international flights).
We both loved India from the perspective of the amount of culture shock for your money, the sights and the lack of tourists. We saw the most spectacular forts whilst we were in India, experienced the hustle and bustle in markets and saw cows in the middle of a three lane highway, it certainly gave us a lot of culture bang for our buck.
However we disliked the food and 99% of the people, which in our opinion are both integral to having a pleasant trip in any country. We thought the food was rather samey, after eating mostly thali for lunch, and then sampling different type’s curries for dinner. Even though a curry was different by name and type of vegetable or meat, the base sauce was pretty similar again and again.
The people also left a bad impression. Rickshaw drivers would set the price by looking at you up and down and deciding how much you could afford to pay, and anyone that wanted to speak to you wanted to sell you something or rip you off. We felt that unless you paid their over inflated price, or visited their brother’s / cousin’s /friend’s shop to buy a suit, then no one would be nice. Even asking for directions would lead to “I’ve got a friend that has a rickshaw”, or “I can book you a bus ticket”, and if you refused their offers, they wouldn’t give you directions.
You can imagine why I am rather cynical when people say they loved the people and the food.
If you loved the people then did you book all your train tickets through guesthouses, go on heaps of tours, and pay exactly the fare that the rickshaw driver’s wanted?
If you loved the food then did you always eat in flash westernised restaurants? The average Indian cannot afford to eat in flash restaurants, only from street carts and small dingy cafes. We always ate in places that were packed with locals, with a limited or non-existent menu, so a lot of pointing and hand signals were needed to order food. Needless to say we never saw any other tourists doing the same for the entire two months.
However, we would walk past restaurants with relatively very expensive menus, and these would be packed with fellow so called ‘backpackers’. By expensive, we mean we could get two mains with chapattis and two drinks from a local restaurant for a lot less than one dish from an expensive restaurant. Are these other diners the ones that claim the food and people are wonderful? No matter how good the food is in these expensive restaurants, they are not a fair representation of the food in India. If we wanted to eat relativity expensive food then we would have gone to Europe.
We believe that the best way to experience a country is through the food and the people. Shielding yourself from both these factors by spending more money than is required is not experiencing the real country. It is a great shame but I think that by splashing your cash you’re experiencing an artificial India where people will only smile when they are taking cash from you. Any one is helpful or ‘nice’ when paid to be so and if India keeps treating tourists as cash machines they are unlikely to return. This is not the way it should be.
We have recently been travelling through Laos and we were amazed by this so called third world country. The streets are clean and the people are amazingly nice. Is seems funny that India is also third world status, yet the two countries are miles apart. The Lao people are genuinely interested in you and not your bank account. Communicating with local people is an integral part of experiencing a country and is made better by never having the underlying feeling of a sale.
Even though Lao is more expensive than India we found we could still comfortably travel on £15/day. Only £2.50/day more than India but we were able to stay in clean guesthouses, eat ‘safe’ meat, fresh fruit and vegetables, and explore this amazing country with smiling and friendly locals and naked kids around every corner, it is worth every extra penny. For a country that has experienced so much hardship in the past and is still experiencing the consequences of such now, it is amazing that this is the case.
This goes to prove that a country can still be ‘cheap’ and have faced hardship but still be a great place to travel.
As stated previously, the culture shock bang for your buck is incredible but now that we have experienced India, would we return? Not in the near future.